Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cherchez la femme: women in the arts

Elder Voices, 2001. @ The artist

Pia Stern: I first saw Pia Stern's work in one of Sister Wendy Beckett's little books. This one was titled "Peace" and Sister Wendy's essay sent me in search of more of Ms. Stern's work. "Stern shows us two ways of being; the physical, answerable only to accident, to wind and time; and the spiritual, answerable to inward truth. One is free-flowing, the other is fixed, grounded in more than its own small compass -- in God." *  Since that time, I have sought out her work and I have never felt disappointed. She shines light on the darker parts of the heart as well as the deeper dimensions of the soul.

Monica Lundy: Since I do look at so much art work, sometimes it's all a blur of conceptual/ installation/video/media pieces that are (sometimes) intellectually interesting but not emotionally engaging. That's why I found Ms. Lundy's work so unique and stunning. It's not only technically accomplished but her portraits of inmates in old California mental asylums and prisons exerts a powerful pull that is part compassion, part revulsion. I wanted to know about these people from the past - they spoke to me of forgotten tragedies, buried beneath layers of race, class, and gender.

Julie Michelle: Her warmth and caring come though so that even the "camera-shy" tell their stories beautifully.  SF's own winners and loosers, dreamers and poets, familes on the street and those who might (some day) be "big names" are all illuminated by her insightful photographs:

Linda Ellia: Responding to Mein Kampf: Eighty-one years after the original publication of Mein Kamph), French painter and photographer Linda Ellia held in her hands a French translation of that book, the blueprint for the Nazi new world order - their new world, our nightmare. Born in Tunisia to a Sephardic Jewish family, Linda Ellia moved to Paris with her family at age eight to escape the increasingly violent antisemitism of 1960s Tunisia. The book was heavy with in her hands, heavy with its murderous ideology and heavy with the memory of the murdered millions.

Compelled to respond, she grabbed a large red marker and drew on one of pages. She named the drawing Alie (wings).

“I felt such pleasure, that I continued on about 30 pages, “ says Ellia. I covered them with my words, with my drawings, with my paintings. I cut them up. It was them that I thought about the others. Why not share the experience that I was in the process of living.”

Shanghai: Art of the City: Or looking for the women who were not there! I got so frustrated by the near misses of this show and the way that it (unconsciously I hope) bought into the misogyny of Chinese culture that I went looking for the missing half of the equation, in this case, the women! This was one show where what was missing led me to some very fruitful research and what I found inspiring is how the women survived. It was their courage, their resourcefulness and their perseverance in the face of poverty and degradation that I honor.

What do the following have in common – foot binding, prostitution, the silk industry, concubines? They all have to deal with the reality of women in Shanghai and they are all omitted from the current exhibit at the Asian. Shanghai, The Art of the City, presents such a cleaned up and ready for its close-up image that you would never guess that it was a byword for decadence, corruption and violence.

The exhibit would have gained immeasurably if there had been an open acknowledgment of the status of women during the 150 years covered by the show.

Film Series at the Asian - a spin off from the Shanghai exhibit and the part that they got right. It's a rather sad commentary on this ambitious exhibit that the part that is the most informative is /are the film series. Opening with "Triad,"  staring Gong Li, and continuing with a comprehensive look at Chinese films of the 20's on up (and it's a miracle that any of the films survived).

* Sister Wendy Beckett. Meditations on Peace. Dorling Kindersley. .London, NY. Stuttgard. 1995, p 34

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